Clinical social workers and life coaches may seem to be roughly similar positions at first. Both help their clients overcome significant challenges in their lives, correct destructive behaviors and try to steer the client in the right direction during difficult periods such as divorce or illness. Both also seek to help their clients explore their experiences and emotions in order to better understand their relationships and themselves. The differences lie in marketing, education and occasionally in salary. Knowing these difference will help you understand which profession is a good fit for you.
To get into clinical social work you're going to need at least a master's degree in social work and a state licence according to the U.S. Department of Labor. You won't need a bachelor's in social work to get your master's though a degree in psychology, economics, sociology, or political science is recommended. The master's degree takes typically two years and includes either an internship or fieldwork as well as study in your chosen specialty. Life coaching, on the other hand, is an unregulated industry that doesn't require any education in the least. If you think you have the right qualities and skills, you can work as a life coach. Still, according to the National Careers Service, you're likely to attract more clients if you have accreditation and belong to a professional organization such as the International Coach Federation (ICF). This requires taking an endorsed training course and completing approximately 750 coaching hours, most of them paid. CoachInc, another recognized organization, offers a 77 hour in-person training program in select cities.
Social workers netted an average of $42,480 as of 2010. Social workers in hospitals can earn upwards of $50,000 while those who work with individuals and families tend to make slightly less than $40,000. Though life coaching has been billed as a field where you can make a quick cash grab of $175 per hour, most coaches earn less, much less. A study by the ICF revealed that 70 percent of coaches earn less than $50,000 and 37 percent earn less than $10,000. Only 10 percent of coaches earned more than $100,000 and most of them were business coaches to the rich and powerful. Still, life coaches don't have to deal with the slow-coming managed care reimbursements that plague the cash flow of clinical social workers.
Clinical social workers usually do private practice, either solo or with other professionals. They treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders, assess clients' backgrounds, draw up treatment plans with other mental health workers, and refer clients to other medical services. Life coaches cross paths with the duties of clinical social workers in that they too help clients adjust to major life changes, better understand their emotional lives and develop game plans to change behavior. Specializations can also carry over from one field to the other -- if you enjoy working with caretakers of Alzheimer's patients, you might choose to specialize in this as a life coach. However, coaching tends to be even more hyperspecialized as opportunities exist to help clients with weight loss, Internet addiction, academic underachievement, or diabetes according to Social Work Today. Clinical social workers can specialize as well, but usually in fields such as mental health or substance abuse.
Running a Business
Clinical social workers and life coaches will find common ground in the grunt work of running a business. Social workers have to work with clients and insurance companies to get paid for their services while life coaches just deal with the former. Also, social workers need to bring in new clients and to network with other professionals who may recommend them. Life coaches will be just as busy trying to find new business either through social media marketing, networking with other coaches, developing a website, leading teleseminairs, updating databases of potential clients, writing articles for notable websites and media outlets and more. Life coaches likely will be working even harder in this regard as they can't rely on insurance companies to send them new clients, according to Social Work Today.
2016 Salary Information for Social Workers
Social workers earned a median annual salary of $47,460 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, social workers earned a 25th percentile salary of $36,790, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $60,790, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 682,000 people were employed in the U.S. as social workers.
Alana Vye is a Canadian writer living abroad. She had a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Toronto and has worked in online marketing and publicity. She's also an avid traveler who has visited Asia, Europe and Central America.